Writing Against the Odds

Posted: March 2, 2015 in Junk, Writing
Tags: , ,

I am going to assume all the writerly people who read this blog (*cough*most of you*cough*) have seen this article by the MFA guy ranting about people who go into MFA programs.

Not overlapping with MFA types.

Not overlapping with MFA types.

It was all over my twitter feed over the weekend. Well, at least the SFF writer chunk of my twitter feed. The NASCAR stuff doesn’t really overlap much.

I first saw it show up via Myke Cole. Swaths of writers I like and respect, both as people and as writers, had sentiments that ranged from “Wow, bitter much?” to “Fuck this guy.”

And I concur. Seriously, Fuck that guy. It makes me glad I couldn’t find an affordable and accessible MFA. I was looking into one so I could get out of my hellhole of a job into something I at least don’t hate that can pay the bills. The endgame I was hoping for was a little bit of teaching, a little bit of publishing and a big chunk of book writing. This guy makes me think I don’t have the patience for any sort of collegiate writing anything. I’ve got a friend in the Rhode Island College English program and he says there are professors that flat out say no genre work allowed in class. When I was cruising for online MFAs, one of the more promising ones, UTEP, was pretty point blank about no genre work.

So I seriously am part of the “Fuck this guy” camp. Right from his first bullet point, his article went down sideways with me.

But then I saw a couple people defending the guy.

The MFA Guy Defenders were also writers I like and respect both as people and professionals. They had well thought out points that I didn’t really agree with, but they were thought out and rational. Holy crap actual discourse!

The Defenders of the MFA Guy can talk about the same points without enraging anyone and it made me realize the writer of the article is really just a jackass more than anything. He’s a condescending jackass.

I’m not where I want to be with a writing career. Most people aren’t. The Stephen Kings and GRRMs are a million to one odds. Hell, I’m still plugging away looking for that first sale, though I think I’ve had a couple in the “close but no cigar” category of “We like it, just not a good fit here.” While I’m working on it, I don’t to bury my head in the sand and have people blowing smoke saying publishing is nothing but rainbows and unicorns crapping out gold coins and fat advance checks.

Realistic expectations with a publishing career is a good thing. I appreciate it so much when Jim Hines blogs about the yearly writing income. Agent Jennifer Laughran spelled out a breakdown of the mythical six figure publishing deal last week. (Spoiler alert! It breaks down to a crapload less than I made last year… about as much as I made moving refrigerators when I was 23). John Scalzi is big on pointing out the business realities that aren’t always friendly or fun. And if you want to hear publishing horror stories, pick through Kameron Hurley’s blog and looking for anything pertaining to Nightshade Books.

Publishing is a harsh mistress. Self publishing is just as, if not more, harsh just in different ways. I am fully aware and accept this as the Way It Is.

Some people have more natural talent and might not have to work as hard as others. Some people know the Right People. Sometimes, what you like to write just doesn’t sell. Sometimes crappy books sell like wildfire. Very few of us will ever get rich or even be able to go full time without a trust fund or a spouse/better half with a hefty paycheck. But when Hines or Laughran or Scalzi or Hurley or a myriad of other people out there in the SFF world talk about it, I am not bothered by it.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve had a rough couple of weeks what with the car exploding and not making it to Boskone and yadda yadda yadda and am a bit extra irritated lately. (The car was ‘time to buy a new one’ broken) But damnit, no one needs more negativity. Anyone who knows me for real or even just on twitter probably just snarfed at that. I get it. I’m pretty damn surly as much as I try to keep it off the blog. MFA Guy’s condescending d-bag attitude serves nothing but his ego though. There’s no “wake up call” or “brutal honesty,” just a guy stroking his ego living up to the stereotype. As a writer, MFA Guy should know that the framework behind the sentiment matters just as much as the sentiment. MFA Guy pissed off a lot of people with his attitude for no real reason.

I know what the odds are because there are some people out there who take the time to present them as realism and nothing more. The odds are long. I can count on one hand the number of SFF authors I follow on ye olde twitter that write full time without a working spouse. I live in New England with a mortgage and a kid. I spent a large chunk of my 20s living below the poverty line and it’s a not a lifestyle I will go back to. Ever. The odds of funding a middle class lifestyle on writing alone is stupid small.

I am writing against the odds anyways.

You can be honest and helpful in facing the odds with realism, or a toolbag like MFA Guy.

I’m going to keep writing against the odds

Boskone 52 Report

Posted: February 15, 2015 in Conventions

a.k.a How I Spent $8k and Never Made it to the Convention

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Borked.

So that looks like a lot of fun, right?

I commute to the Boston area cons because A) I don’t really have the money to stay for a whole weekend B) I work Fridays anyways C) I have a two year old who is really rad and D) Even the raddest and most well behaved two year olds are still a handful and that’s not fair to my wife to just up and go for a whole weekend.

So Boston is a hellish place to drive in but it’s only actually 60 miles away from where I live in Rhode Island. I drive 45 miles in the other direction every day to work in Connecticut. Not a big deal. Well I never made it out of Rhode Island yesterday.

That picture is of a completely seized engine.

The short version of the story (which isn’t that short, but I don’t want to repeat it a lot so I’m putting it here)… Between my house and the gas station, my car was perfectly fine. Since I started working in Connecticut, I’ve put a big chunk of miles on my car, but it’s a Subaru. Once a Subaru hits 100k, it’s just getting warmed up. That’s half the reason I got a Subaru and mine wasn’t on track to hit 100K until this summer even though it’s seven years old. After the gas station, I hit the interstate pointed north to Boston. The car started rattling. You can’t tell, but my bumper is held together with zip ties because it hooked on a snowbank a couple years ago. So sometimes it comes loose and rattles. The rattle didn’t change with how much I was on the gas. I figured there was some snow up under the wheel well that was screwing with the bumper.

At this point I was in Providence. Rhode Island’s capital kind of sucks. I avoid the city when I can but I know that the exits will dump you in crappy parts of town or near the mall. Neither of which are convenient places to stop and mess around with your car. I knew of a nice gas station right off the highway just over the Massachusetts line and planned on stopping there.

I didn’t make it that far.

The horrible noises got progressively worse. Stopping had to happen immediately. The engine light flickered once and went off. I’ve had it go on for a week at a time before so I didn’t think one flicker was my car’s death knell. It was.

I was on the exit ramp in Pawtucket (Rhode Islanders are wincing, The Bucket isn’t a great place) when the engine cut out completely. I was EXTREMELY lucky that it was on the exit ramp at about 30mph. Power steering goes away with the engine. Rhode Island also sucks at plowing and with all the snow, there would have been no where to get my car off the highway. As it was, I randomly picked an exit right next to a gas station and was able to manhandle the steering wheel to get it in there and out of the way.

car bork 2

Still borked.

I waited for a tow. Ironically, when the tow truck pulled up, it wasn’t for me. There was a car right next to mine in the gas station. I figured it was the guy who worked there. It wasn’t. That car was also dead and waiting for a tow, the driver just wandered off and abandoned it instead of waiting in the cold. The second tow truck showed up and took my car back down to the Sears Auto Center not far from my house. (Butch, our local guy, isn’t open weekends) The guy at Sears took one look at it and said “Oil’s gone. The damage is done and I doubt it’s salvageable.”

At least I didn’t have to pay an $80 diagnostic fee for that.

My car gave me ZERO warning that was going to happen. Really, as soon as it started rattling on the highway, it was already too late. No oil lights. No engine lights. No smoke. No leaking fluids. My driveway is covered in snow, I would have easily noticed a leak in the white snow. I had that one flicker of the light one mile before it seized up, which doesn’t really count as a warning since the car was borked before that. (The Subaru guy later told me that oil light only comes on with low oil pressure not low oil level cause that makes a lot of fucking sense.) When I popped the hood waiting for the tow, there was a sleight smell but I don’t exactly sniff my car that often to diagnose by nose.

So back to Sears. They conveniently does not do that level of engine repair. I waited for another tow. At this point, the blizzard had started so it took me 20 minutes just to get a call through to AAA. My wife is awesome so she came over with her car and we cleared out everything from mine and got some noms from Wendy’s while we waited in the snow. The car got towed to the local Subaru dealership this time because they can dive into it hardcore.

Prognosis from Subaru is not that good.

With this level of damage, our only practical repair option is an engine swap. I do not have the money or the desire to send a forensic repair team into the innards of the car for hours to tell me it’s borked. I know it’s borked. I had my last oil change in my car in mid-December and the same place did my state safety inspection a couple weeks later. I was scheduled to go there again on Tuesday for another oil change. I’ve had a number of people suggest that I call up and make them fix it. That’s not even worth the stress to me. I would have to pay for the lengthy diagnostic labor for a 50-50 shot that it was someone’s fault. The roads in Rhode Island are so shitty, it’s more likely a pot hole caused it. I don’t need to pay someone money I don’t have for those odds.

So what did Subaru tell me? Labor is going to up in the neighborhood of $2k. Then they need to source a used engine. Oh, did I forget to mention Subaru doesn’t sell crate engines? Yeah. That. Subaru only sells the engine blocks and then you have to put all your own pieces on it. Well my engine seized… who the hell knows how many parts are any good on my car. My car only had 88k miles on it. My car did not have a turbo or any of the WRX go-fast parts, but a low mileage used Subaru engine is not going to come cheap. I don’t think they show up on the market that often. The ballpark figure to getting my car back on the road is $8k with zero estimate yet on the time frame.

The dealership isn’t open on Sundays (cause, ya know, why be open when it’s convenient for people to get things done like get cars repaired) so my car is sitting in the snow at the dealer, waiting to get looked at and see what the damage is. Hopefully on Monday they can give me a real estimate. And then if the estimate looks good, I need to make sure they stay with that estimate because there is a very finite line where it’s not worth it to bother. That’s both a dollar amount line and a engine mileage line. They could do it on the cheap, but hell no am I putting some 120K engine in my car.

So that’s the story. A new Subaru Impreza starts at $21k. A quick google search shows only three 2008 Imprezas for sale. The only low mileage one is 800 miles away for $15k. Which is funny because I paid $16k in god damn 2008 for mine. I don’t want to buy one of these things. My car was supposed to last long enough for my kiddo to drive it (and then not be allowed to because I know how much trouble I would have gotten into with a Subaru at age 16).

Boskone 52 Incoming

Posted: February 13, 2015 in Conventions
Tags:

It’s that time of year for my winter con, Boskone!

Even though they picked the worst weekend ever to host it on, my wife is awesome enough to be cool with me going to play Saturday and Sunday. Seriously, my wife rocks.

Mine is Red, but you get the .... drift.

Mine is Red, but you get the …. drift.

Of course, there’s an epic ton of snow in the forecast for this weekend. I think three years in a row with a right proper blizzard makes it a tradition. Snow doesn’t bother me. That amazes people constantly, even native New Englanders who not only have winter, they have the same winters that I do. A foot of snow? Whatev. Me + Subaru > Nature. Really, the only downside is that I was thinking about taking the train to Boston this year. Boston is a horrendously miserable place to take a car and the T actually runs a train down into Rhode Island that stops four blocks from my house. But anyone who’s seen news from around here and all the snow knows the MBTA is a big mess right now that can’t seem to get out of its own way. So driving it is. I’ve never really lived in a place with functional public transportation anyways so am not comfortable relying on others for my travel plans anyways.

Boskone, and Readercon in the summer, recharge my creative batteries. I think my wife gets that better than I do, what with her being ok that we go to dinner later tonight instead of tomorrow. Writing, and more so writing successfully, is not an easy thing. If what we did was easy, everyone would. Or at least there wouldn’t be so much free self pubbed garbage cluttering up the ebook world.

So I’m marching off to Boskone tomorrow, commuting up each day and spending most of my money on overpriced hotel parking. Since this is my fourth year, and many of the same faces go to Readercon, half the crowd will do the Polite Head Nod of Recognition. I’ll see and chat with people I’ve seen and chatted with before. Maybe I’ll pretend I’m an extrovert and chat with more people. I’ll take notes for my writing. Ideas and inspiration and maybe I’ll remember to blog about all the cool topics that come up, unlike Readercon where I still haven’t blogged half the topics yet. Maybe this year the Dealer’s Room will have Max Gladstone or Mur Lafferty in stock and I can get more signed books. I’ll get Myke Cole to sign a whole stack of books because for some reason it’s become tradition for me to buy his book for Fred. I’m going to find ML Brennan because Rhode Island really should be run by vampires. I’ll discover new authors and maybe their books will actually be in stock for me to buy.

I am going to read a story for the Flash Fiction Slam and damnit, it’s the best little piece of micro fiction I’ve written. Related, this year I’m not bringing a cyberpunk story to lay out in front of judges who invented the genre.

When I get home on Sunday, I’m going to be riding a wave of momentum. It usually lasts a month. I recently twigged on how to fix the plot of the godpunk novel that I’ve been fighting with since I realized it was broken a couple months ago. I’m going to take that momentum and the third reboot of that novel is going to be the charm.

I’m going to get to the other side of the fence to go play with the cool kids.

boskonetauntaun

We’re creeping up on the three year anniversary of Stuff and/or Junk and I spent some mental currency on trying to come up with a way to celebrate the fact that Holy cow I haven’t let it die yet?? without an obligatory blog equivalent of a sitcom clips show.

Fortunately for me, 2012 was a good year for debut authors in the SF scene. At least it was pretty rad for debut authors on my shelf. I started the blog on Feb 12, 2012 after lurking on twitter for a few weeks. It coincided pretty closely with my first writing related convention and the debut book from author Myke Cole. With the upcoming release of his fourth book, Gemini Cell, on January 27th, I thought it would be a perfect excuse to check in.

Headshots of Myke ColeCole’s first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point was a serious breath of fresh air for me as a reader. I describe Cole’s universe as a military urban fantasy or how the actual military would deal with sorcerers being dropped into their ranks. And it’s a description I use a lot because they are one of the most recommended books on my shelf. There’s an entire unit of the Rhode Island Air National Guard readers that I helped along.

Gemini Cell takes place in the same universe as the original Shadow Ops trilogy but earlier in the timeline with a different cast of characters. This time around magic isn’t established in the world, the book is “set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel.” I’ve preordered mine (and lots of links down at the bottom if you are so inclined to do the same).

So in the spirit of the upcoming three year mark, I’d like to bust out some shop talk since that’s the sort of thing I like to do and Cole, being one of the friendliest authors out on the scene, has been kind enough to indulge me. Of course, I’ll be out of any useful shop talk questions when we cross paths at Boskone 52, but that’s a problem for later. Maybe we’ll just talk about beer at that point and hopefully not blizzards that are outside the convention hotel waiting for me to drive through like last year… or the year before (Boskone has a thing with blizzards).

geminicellOne of the themes in your reviews over the years, which I’ve completely agreed with, is that your writing levels up with each book. I loved Control Point but Breach Zone blows it out of the water. Do you find that there is a leveling up of your back end writing process as well? What’s changed about your writing process between Control Point and Gemini Cell?

Thanks for noticing this. I can’t say whether or not I’m a “good” writer, and I can’t say that I’m “getting better” with each book, but I can objectively and definitively say that each novel is very different from all the others. This is by design, and I’m enormously proud of it. There’s a lot of pressure for direct to Mass-Market Paperback authors like myself to write in-series novels that feature the same protagonist and are all very similar. I’m not knocking that style. There are some GREAT writers out there doing great things in this mode. Look at Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs. One of my favorite writers, Bernard Cornwell, writes this way (his Richard Sharp and Thomas of Hookton novels).

But that’s not what I want to do. I push really, REALLY hard to progress as a writer. If my career fails, I don’t want it to be because I didn’t challenge myself. Control Point is sort of a bildungsroman and a fugitive story. Fortress Frontier is a fantasy quest piece. Breach Zone is a siege tale and a tragic romance. All three books have different protagonists by design. Breach Zone stops using chapter group sections, and is a double-helix narrative (a story in the past and a story in the present intertwining and climaxing together) that I stole from Mark Lawrence.

Gemini Cell is a *very* different novel from the Shadow Ops trilogy. It’s got much stronger elements of romance and totally different characters. The magic system is completely different. Scylla got some POV time in Breach Zone, but Sarah Schweitzer is a major POV character who can almost be counted as the book’s protagonist.

At the same time, I wrote The Fractured Girl (the 5th draft is currently with my agent, and I’m hopeful we’ll go out to market soon), which is a medieval “grimdark” fantasy in the mode of Lawrence and Abercrombie, whose protagonist is a 13 year old gay girl.

My point is this: I strive to get better, but I know that’s totally subjective. What isn’t subjective is this: I do something *different* with each book. To the extent that improves my writing, I’m delighted.

Your writing mixes genres. Even before we crossed paths at my first Boskone the idea of a modern military fantasy book came off as new and fresh. After spending twenty years reading in the genre, new and fresh is an amazing thing. And then Bookbinder came along and the support staff became the protags. And I absolutely maintain that Breach Zone is really a romance book in disguise. Now I’ve seen tidbits on twitter that the horror book scene is keying in on Gemini Cell. What kind of challenges are there with mixing genres and bringing other people’s tropes into our SFF scene?

All major successes in the arts are outliers. Take a look at A Song of Ice and Fire. We all talk about Ned Stark’s beheading as if it’s just part of the fantasy literature. But the truth was that, in capriciously killing a major and well-loved character, Martin took us into new territory. Look at the major comics that broke out when the Comics Code was bucked off in the 80’s – Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Moore’s Swamp Thing. These books went into completely uncharted territory and they reaped major rewards.

All of these examples were not creating anything new out of whole cloth. They were riffing in creative ways on extant tropes. Martin was writing a medieval fantasy. Miller was working with Batman, one of the oldest and most loved characters in the history of comics. But they consciously pushed out into new territory. They took risks, and audiences responded.

I like to think that I’m doing that here. I grew up with zombie fiction. I started with the Romero flicks like everyone else, but I got in on the ground floor with the zombie renaissance as an early reader of Kirkman’s Walking Dead in ’03, long before the TV show made it a household word. I’m certainly not the first person to ask more complex questions about the zombie phenomena (what if zombies can still think? How do they integrate with humanity?). Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series deals with this, and Carey’s Girl With All the Gifts is getting a lot of press lately. In making Gemini Cell‘s character undead, I wanted to explore the military applications of zombies, and I also wanted to avoid the trope that zombie infection is always via virus.

When Dread Central, a major hub site for horror, picked up the story, I was tickled. I hope it means I’m on the right track.

One of the other upcoming projects you’ve talked about is the Fractured Girl (like a few paragraphs above), which I’ve seen you describe as a Mark Lawrence-esqe grimdark starring a teenaged girl protag long before you described it above. That’s a big swing from the cadre of military officers that make up your other protags. I can’t even listen to the same genre of music when I switch gears so drastically. Do you need to cultivate a different headspace for writing from such a different point of view? Do you have to change up the mechanics of your process any?

I’m not sure, but only because it’s so new to me. I’ve had a hard time writing Javelin Rain, which is the sequel to Gemini Cell (I just finished a 1st draft of Javelin Rain on December 31st). Keep in mind, I also had a hard time writing Breach Zone, which is widely regarded as my best published work (judging from the critical reception). So, this could mean that it’s simply how it goes for me lately: I have a hard time writing the book, but it turns out to be solid, or I could be having a tough time switching gears between The Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain.

I will say this: I was much more excited to write The Fractured Girl than I was to write Javelin Rain. I think some of this is the “oooooh, shiny!” tendency to be drawn to something new and different. Gemini Cell is my fourth military novel. If you don’t count unsold work, that means roughly 500,000 words (or 2,000 pages) in the same arena. It’s nice to branch out and stretch your legs. It’s also really important to me that I be a writer with a capital “W.” I want to show that what success I’ve enjoyed isn’t gimmickry, that it’s about more than my “authentic” military voice.

This one is kind of cheesy but it’s a topic that fascinates me, but what kind of soundtrack would you drop for Gemini Cell? Sometimes I see books with an author’s playlist in the back. What’s the playlist for Gemini Cell?

This is a tough one for me, since I almost always write to movie soundtracks. So, there literally is a soundtrack playing as I create my world. It would definitely be a composite soundtrack that included orchestral scores interspersed with pop artists. For example: Snow White and The Huntsman‘s soundtrack, which I write to a lot, includes Florence and The Machine. Narnia‘s soundtrack includes Switchfoot and Alanis Morrisette. I am loving the Skyrim soundtrack as well. Video game soundtracks loom large in my repertoire.

One more slightly cheesy one, but as a film school grad, I can’t resist. If the mythical Hollywood movie deal dropped into your lap and you had a say in the casting call, who would you tap to be the stars across Gemini Cell or any of the other books you’ve written? I have to say, I’d be partial to Idris Elba or a younger Djimon Hounsou as Oscar Briton.

Funny you should mention this. I actually was asked this very question and gave a detailed breakdown here. (Interviewer’s note: I tried really hard not to write repeat questions but my google-fu failed me that day)

Gemini Cell would be really tough to cast for. The lead, James Schweitzer, has his face blown off and poorly reconstructed. He’s so hard to look at that they put a modified flight helmet on him (as shown on the cover) to keep him from scaring the shit out of living troops.

PlayersHandbookYou’ve talked about how D&D was part of your nerd foundation, specifically the paladin archetype. (Chaotic neutral sorcerer here, Green Rodrick ftw!) I know we’ve all been tempted to take the stat sheet and keep writing. Jim Hines actually did in a round about way. China Meiville’s Perdido Street Station and The Scar read like they could be D&D source books, he even makes references to the classic adventuring party in the former. Have you ever had any characters make the jump from dice to the page? Do you find any useful synergy between tabletop RPGs and writing?

I find TONS of useful synergy between RPGs and writing, but not in the way you think. Playing D&D taught me to imagine myself as someone else, to form an external model/vision of the person I wanted to be (in this case, a paladin). I wasn’t parented well, and so that vision became the role-model I never had. It allowed me to reinvent myself as a military officer and eventually as a writer. The task of going pro as a writer is so impossible that it would make almost anyone give up. A paladin doesn’t worry about that. He hefts his shield and advances into hell. Without RPGs, I would *never* have become a novelist.

This next one approaches a “standard” question, which I’ve been doing my best to avoid, but according to my google-fu, you’ve yet to answer this one since the Breach Zone release window so it’s new for 2015! I know you’ve got the previously mentioned Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain, the sequel to Gemini Cell, in the works, what else are you juggling with that epic work ethic you’ve got?

operationarcanaFunny you should mention. My novelette, Weapons In The Earth, will be published in John Joseph Adams’ Operation: Arcana military fantasy anthology in March. It’s a POW story set in the Shadow Ops universe and told from the goblin POV. I’ve also been invited to do short work for the Urban Allies anthology and Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology.

While I wait for beta-reads to come back on Javelin Rain and for my agent to comment on The Fractured Girl, I’ve dusted off an old science-fiction police novel proposal that is highly influenced by Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha. (Interviewer’s note: !!!) It deals with cops who merge with a race of nanoscale xenocarids who colonize their bodies for law enforcement applications. It would leverage a lot of my work in law enforcement with a lot of my work in . . . dreaming up crazy shit. It’s also very, very bleak (like The Fractured Girl). I know a lot of people are already predicting “grimdark’s” demise, but that tone is still what resonates most with me in fiction.

We’ll see what comes of it. Fingers crossed.

As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill. All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

Myke Cole’s fourth novel, Gemini Cell drops on January 27th. Connect with Cole on his website mykecole.com or on twitter @mykecole. Preorder the book at your bookseller of choice – Barnes and NobleAmazon - IndieBoundPowell’sBooks-a-millionPandemonium Books & Games, Cambridge MassBooks on the Square, Providence RI

Remember that really cool thing I did last year at Boskone?

Yes, all of it was cool but I’m talking about the Flash Fiction Slam. Well I’m gonna do it again.

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Sunday, 9:30 AM

Marina 4

Flash Fiction Slam

Join Boskone’s second Flash Fiction Slam. Be one of eleven (11) writers to compete for the title of The Flash, reading your own original fiction — which must tell a complete tale within a 3-minute period. Our expert panel of judges will score your work, and you automatically lose 10 percent for going over your 3-minute time. You may only read your own work. The reader with the top score wins! Sign up before the con for one of eight (8) reading slots on a first-come, first-served basis by e-mailing erin.m.underwood@gmail.com. Or sign up onsite at Program Ops in the Galleria for one of three (3) at-con openings. A waiting list will also be available.

Carrie Cuinn (M), James Patrick Kelly, Kenneth Schneyer, Fran Wilde, F. Brett Cox

I got a good draft in hand to read at the slam. It’s a bit too long right now at 710 words. Last’s year’s story nailed the three minute time limit perfectly at 560 so I’m going to need to trim it down. Short fiction, especially flash, is tough for me. You get very conscious of each word used.

I’m excited for this. The story is really weird and all sorts of cool. I plan on improving from last year and I think this story can do it.

In the meanwhile, if you want to read last year’s story, it’s right over here.

Discovering Comics as an Adult

Posted: December 27, 2014 in Comics, Genre, Stuff
Tags: , ,

I consider myself a jack of all trades kind of nerd. I know a little bit about a lot of nerdy things, but I wouldn’t really call myself an expert on much. Comics are one of those topics that I know enough to get in trouble with, but that’s about it.

See, I’ve always found them fascinating and I knew enough of the cool trivia but the rabbit hole goes real far when it comes to comic books. When I use the term “comics” I am quite specifically referring to the classic Marvel or DC superheroes. I have always thought that Doctor Who and comic books are the toughest fandoms to get into from the outside because the rabbit hole runs deep. That rabbit hole I mentioned is such an extensive history, you have to just jump into the deep end and hope you can figure it out. And that doesn’t even factor in the vigor and exuberance (when it’s positive) or anger and elitism (when it’s negative) that some people take these fandoms to heart. That makes it very intimidating to get into. Doubly so for any non-males who want to get into comics since it is traditionally a boys club.

Fox X-Men Animated Series

The 90s were the best.

But like any good kid from the 90s, I know most of my comic book lore from cartoons. I was eight years old when Fox Kids dropped the X-Men cartoon and I’ll still watch it online occasionally. I was a cartoon nerd before any other kind of nerd. It was the first job I ever dreamed of until I realized I sucked at drawing. Between X-Men, Superman, (the ultimately fantastic) Batman and later on X-Men Evolution, Batman Beyond and Static Shock, there were a lot of comics animated on tv. Teen Titans came along when I was in college. I watched them all except for Spiderman. Peter Parker is a weenie. I still don’t really like him that much. So anyone in the general vicinity of 30 who watched Saturday Morning Cartoons as a kid, has a basic knowledge of comic books.

NewX-Men44coverIt was not easy to jump from one medium to the other. Comic books are expensive. From time to time over the years, I’d get a bit of disposable income and try to keep up with a title or two. The last time I did, was around 05 and 06 and I grabbed up the New X-Men title because it was early on in its run. I thought it would be easier to dive into at issue #12 as opposed to #600something that Uncanny X-Men was on at the time. I think I kept up with it for six months until I got laid off from my job. The world spanning events Marvel likes to drop would have killed my budget anyways because you need a dozen different titles each month to figure out what the hell was going on with the characters you actually like.

So I lost track of comic books for most of my 20s aside from a couple Mass Effect trades I got for my Nook when it was brand new. I nabbed a couple Runaways trades too. I enjoyed the story but the cost to content ratio sucked. Fifteen bucks for an ebook comic I would read in one or two sittings. I could buy three or four novels on my Nook for that.

Kamala_KhanBut for all that, I wanted to read them again. The comic landscape was changing for the better. Kamala Khan, the new Thor. Comics seem like they’re growing up a bit and becoming more inclusive. That makes for better storytelling. That makes me want to read them. Novel writers like Peter V Brett have written comics. Chuck Wendig is working on one. Sam Sykes teamed up with one of his favorite artists to write a prequel comic for his latest book. Recommendations from people I already know I like to read are how I find new stories now.

So I found Marvel Ultimate. Netflix for comics? Friggin’ brilliant. Comic books look great on my Nook and the bite sized stories are perfect when there is a two-year-old running around the house.

I’ve been rocking Marvel Ultimate for a month or so. The first think I read was the start of Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel but that started to overlap with the Civil War event in the Marvel Universe. The side of “law and order” was the side of sanctimonious tools and I wasn’t really feeling a giant world spanning event right at the moment. I searched by character and read the very short run starring Jubilee as I think I may have been the only person ever to think the 90s cartoon Jubilee was cool. Two days into comics and I was already bummed that a title I wanted to read was cancelled after six issues (even if it was from years ago). I read solo titles from Mystique, who is my new favorite villain, and Gambit, who was bad ass in the old cartoon and still exudes cool. I read the whole Dark Avengers run and am working on Guardians of the Galaxy (no, I haven’t seen the movie to compare the two). I am toying with reading the entire X-Men run going back to the sixties, but that’s a huge thing to dive into.

My first thought is that the more complex character, the better. That transcends medium and is true across comics, books, film, tv and so on. I find it is way more magnified though when dressed up with the tropes of superheroes. Everyone is larger than life. The bad guys are really bad and the good guys are really good. The extreme ends of that spectrum are boring though. The demonic/evil/psychopathic villain is just set dressing. The paladin type hero who embodies all that is good and noble is boring as shit. Scott Summers, Captain America, (the aforementioned weenie) Peter Parker… they don’t interest me one single bit. I don’t want a lawful good character.

Mystique3The universal storytelling wisdom of “Every villain is the hero of their own story” is another one of those things magnified in comics. Magneto was always compelling because he thought he was doing the right thing. Mystique is the same way but with a lot more kick ass attitude. Reading about the bad guys in Dark Avengers was fun for the different PoV, but non-super Victoria Hand was the most interesting character in that run because she truly bought into what Osborne was doing and thought she was part of the good guys while enabling the real villains.

So I’ve been finding some good storytelling. Fantastic. Comics aren’t just about the story telling thought.

And the art can be…. problematic.

I’m a guy, who likes girls and even still, unnecessary cheesecake shots are unnecessary. Holy crap unnecessary.

In Dark Avengers when Victoria Hand marches up to Molecule Man, who just housed everyone else, he dissolved her uniform and gear leaving her in a tank top and underwear. Buh? That doesn’t add anything to the story. If you’re going for the “take away all her gear and make her vulnerable,” she would still have pants on. If you’re looking for a “vulnerable” metaphor, it’s heavy handed and lazy. She was talking tough while the artist drew her half-heartedly trying to cover up like Marilyn Monroe without a skirt or air vent. Words and actions don’t even match.

I get that everyone is going to read or interpret a story differently. Not everyone is going to read it the same way I will, but I cannot think of any way that adds to the story. At best, you’re going to get an eyeroll out of that. It’s fan service for that bad stereotype of lonely, horny, maladjusted male nerd.

During the Mystique comics, there was a stretch for a few issues with naked jokes ever few pages. As s shapeshifter, she makes her own clothes. It’s part of the mythos and her power. Lame ass “she’s really naked” and “I don’t actually wear clothes” jokes are friggin’ stupid. Gong Show, vote you off the island kind of stupid. And then they take the time to set up that she makes he own clothes, then has an extensive Just-Out-of-the-Shower scene wrapped in a towel so the artist has an excuse to draw her dripping wet. You aren’t even consistant at that point. Mystique can make her own fucking clothes. Why the hell would she even bother with a god damn towel?

Now look at me. Irritated and swearing over comics. Does that make me a “real” fan now? Probably not because I don’t like the dumbass sexism that took away from a great character.

Honestly, I think that a couple of these artists have never even seen a woman before. They are boobs, not armored cantaloupes and there is no type of martial arts where women are trained to attack boob first. Carol Danvers on the cover of Ms. Marvel #1 looks like she has footballs stuffed under her shirt. That’s not even remotely anatomically correct. Austin Powers’ machine gun boobed Fembots were less ridiculous. “But they’re superheroes!” Yeah well, there’s still no need to put the “gross” in “grossly disproportionate.” And really, no one gets to pull that argument until a woman is drawing Wolverine with epic crotch bulge for those who like to ogle the menfolk.

I absolutely and completely see why non-males are easily turned off from comic books and these are titles from the last decade, not even going back to when the same issues would be even more problematic and prevalent.

2006 - She will put your eye out.

2006 – She will put your eye out.

2012 - She looks like a human being!

2012 – She looks like a human being!

For all that complaining, I can see how it is better than it used to be. Emma Frost looks like she can’t breathe every time she shows up in that white bondage get up, but Jubilee, X-23, Pixie and some of the others showed up looking like human beings without being dressed like they lost a fight with a spandex factory and a fetish store. And just look at the progress six years has made with Carol Danvers.

One of the most important parts of being a fan of anything, is recognizing the flaws in something. There is room to adore these geeky things that we love while still being critical of the flaws. That’s how we get better, that’s progress, that’s opening up what we love to new people. For some reason there are angry nerds who don’t want to share. Screw that.

So there’s great storytelling. There’s great art. The genre’s problems seem to be getting better. I am glad that I have finally found a cost effective way to be a comic fan. For all its flaws, Marvel has sucked me in and I want to see the how the whole shindig is going to improve, because I think that it will.

NaNoWriMo Redux Roundup

Posted: December 3, 2014 in Writing
Tags: ,

So let’s see. Remember how I said I was modding out NaNoWriMo and it was really going to be 61k in 36 days? How’d that go?

Ha.

Lame.

I actually don’t really want to talk about any of this. Because of the lameness. But I feel I have to. Half the point of starting this blog way back when was simply to think aloud to get my crap together. Still. 50-50 that I actually press publish.

When I did this in 2012 as the final push to finish Amity, my kid was all of six months old. Infants are adorable, but often as lively as a sack of potatoes. My kiddo was not mobile and went to sleep at the drop of a hat. Now? Yeah… he’s two. Anyone else who has ever had an offspring is nodding in understanding. My kiddo is a fantastic little two year old and very low maintenance … for a two year old. He’s still a ball of fire. Who is starting potty training. And had to ditch the binky cold turkey. A two year old who is confused and pissed as to why he can’t have his binky can and will raise a lot of hell over it. I vastly overestimated the writing time I could carve out of life.

NaNotweet

It is what it is. There’s nothing I can do about it. The kiddo needs what the kiddo needs. Insert witty zen-like phrase.

I still got In A Murphy Minute up to 50k (total, remember I started in October with high 20s). I wanted to be at 90k by tomorrow. Unless I can start bending the space time continuum, 40k in 36 hours is not going to happen. I did get a sizable chunk of it done though. That’s better than most months I have so I guess I will live with it.

What about the content of all those words?

Meh.

Seriously. Meh.

I am having a lot of problems with Murphy right now. Honestly, that’s part of why I’ve lost headway on my wordcount this past week. I had a moment where I realized I was hitting the halfway point of the novel, and I still had not introduced the actual antagonist. It was a big double you tee eff moment. I wanted to give the relationship between my two main characters the attention it needed. By making the romance the A Plot and the magical gangsters the B Plot, I let the antagonists sit around on the sidelines waiting to be introduced for much too long.

My original framework for the plot was build when the protag was a guy and the character was a lot more abrasive. By making her nicer and expanding the roles of some supporting characters, large chunks of the middle of the book were not going to make sense as originally conceived. But that was ok. The first act and the last act were going to stay the same. I knew where I started, and I knew where I was heading if I got lost.

Still, it has made the middle tough because, even though I updated my working outline, that stretch of the plot is a lot less refined than the rest. Now I’ve got this big realization that I’m still have not introduced one of the primary characters that drives the whole fucking thing and the book is over halfway through the expected word count.

Fuck.

So I am having a serious lack of confidence in this book right now. I am sorely tempted to work on a different project. I have another novel that has been dominating my brain lately as opposed to the one I am supposed to be working on. I am resisting the temptation, though, because that is how novels never get finished.

But I can’t keep going on a project I have no faith in. Even though Amity never sold, I never lost faith in it until the rejections piled up. And still, I have a plan in the back of my head to strip down 90% of it and rewrite it as a single PoV in order to resurrect it some day.

And I think that’s what I need to do with Murphy Minute. A plan. Even if I don’t fix the first half of the book now, I think I need a game plan of how I am going to get the plotting into shape. With a game plan, I think I can regain my confidence in the book. One thing that I learned writing Amity, is that most of my editing will probably occur in the first act anyways so I am not terribly concerned or surprised by this fact. I know the characters better when I get to the end of the book.

I also finished the steampunk book I was reading yesterday. For today’s New Book Day, I decided that I needed to hit up a couple rereads that will jazz up my writing. Certain books inspire my writing on a level that others do not. So today I started my annual read of Nine Princes in Amber, my single all time favorite book.  I think I may follow up with a reread of Breach Zone which I was reading when I first started writing the novel. I might follow up with some Delilah S Dawson books as well. The romance disguised as sci fi is exactly how I’m handling writing Murphy Minute and surrounding myself with more of it should help. Not that the other books I’ve been reading haven’t been good or anything. I’ve actually been on a very good streak of excellent reads. I just think reading more spiritual kin to my own novel will be a positive.

And positives are what I need so I can finish and make this a damn good book.